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Frankenheimer’s “Seven Days in May” resonates now more than ever

Updated: Feb 13, 2023


Burt Lancaster stars as General James M. Scott and Kirk Douglas as Colonel Martin Casey, who intercepts a message exposing the conspiracy to overthrow the president of the United States in a military coup.

(Click on an image to scroll through the larger versions)


Blu-ray, 1964, Not Rated; Streaming Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube

Best extra: Commentary with director John Frankenheimer, one of the best at dissecting his work

JOHN FRANKENHEIMER was the thinking-man's director in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy was one of his biggest fans, who thoroughly enjoyed "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962), a cold-war thriller in which a brainwashed assassin (Laurence Harvey) targets a presidential candidate.

When JFK got wind of his next project, "Seven Days in May," he invited the director to the White House. "Thank you, Mr. President," Frankenheimer says in his excellent commentary. He received permission to photograph the living quarters and hallways so the art director could reproduce the interiors. A masterful political thriller, "Seven Days" plays out at the White House and Pentagon, where power-hungry General Scott (Burt Lancaster) and pacifist President Lyman (Fredric March), who's signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets, battle for control of the government.

(1) Fredric March as President Jordan Lyman. (2) Douglas as Col. Martin "Jiggs" Casey.

Rod Serling, creator of "The Twilight Zone," adapted the story for the big screen. It begins as Colonel Casey (Kirk Douglas) intercepts a message exposing the conspiracy, and heads to the White House. The legendary Ava Gardner, who worked on the film for seven days, plays Scott's old flame.

Frankenheimer also talks about getting permission to film outside the White House gates to shoot a realistic riot scene. There was only one problem; he had to finish by 3 p.m. before a real protest by the United Mine Workers of America began. Running long, Frankenheimer says, "I had a friend on the D.C. police force, who sent the UMW members on a wild goose chase until we were finished."

Warner Bros. nicely restored the black-and-white 35mm film (1.78:1 aspect ratio) with a new 2K or possible 4K master from the original camera negative. It preserves the natural film grain and maintains a balanced gray-scale throughout allowing the wide-angle shots and handheld camera work of the riot to dominate. A second-generation print is used in a few short bursts, producing a slightly softer image, to fill gaps where the original was damaged.

(1) Director John Frankenheimer staged a riot outside the gates of the White House for his political thriller. (2) Edmond O'Brien as Senator Raymond Clark. (3) President Lyman confronts Gen. Scott.

Frankenheimer preferred shooting in b&w, explaining it gave him more opportunities to create mood and drama. The opening credits are not to be missed, another memorable creation from graphic designer Saul Bass ("Anatomy of a Murder," "Vertigo" and "Spartacus").

The mono audio track has also been cleaned up, presenting clear and center dialogue delivery, and the dramatic score from Jerry Goldsmith ("Air Force One," "Patton" and "Planet of the Apes").

"Seven Days in May" is as relevant today as it was 50-plus years ago. Don't miss it.

— Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer

(1) The TV control room from the White House press room before a President Lyman press conference. (2) Martin Balsam as Paul Girard, aide to the president, as Col. Casey leaves the private residence of the White House.




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